The Corner

Politics & Policy

Do Americans Even Care If There’s a Constitution?

Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer at the start of his first re-election campaign rally in several months in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., June 20, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Yuval Levin and Adam J. White covered almost all that needs to be said about the most recent Trump executive orders, the spiritual descendants of Barack Obama’s declaring “I have a pen and a phone” and deciding to enact the DACA and DAPA programs without congressional concurrence, authorization, or action.

The only thing I would add is that the general enthusiasm for Trump’s moves from his grassroots fans, and the general enthusiasm for Obama’s moves from his grassroots fans, demonstrates that most people in politics see no value in separation of powers, and cannot get their heads around why the federal government should have separated powers. They cannot comprehend why a government that invests far-reaching powers in the executive could possibly turn out badly for them.

Back in 2014, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and the 14 other members of the “Full Employment Caucus” in Congress introduced not legislation but “drafted executive orders” that they wanted the president to sign. Frustrated by being in the legislative minority, they started dreaming up new ways for the executive branch to change the laws and regulations. She declared, “We’ll give President Obama a number of executive orders that he can sign with pride and strength, in fact, I think that should be our number one agenda, that’s write up these executive orders, draft them, of course, and ask the president to stand with us.” As the meme goes, that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works. If you want to serve in the executive branch, then leave the legislative branch.

The first thing all U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives do is take an oath declaring, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” And then they advocate government actions that ignore the separation of powers in the Constitution. Two consecutive presidents have concluded, “if Congress won’t act, I will,” and blithely ignored the fact that this is more or less why we fought a revolution against the British.

Do Americans even want a Constitution? Did the education system fail them so thoroughly that they can’t even begin to grasp why concentrated government power would be a bad thing?

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